From: Rohit Khare (email@example.com)
Date: Thu May 11 2000 - 14:36:08 PDT
May 11, 2000
India Population Hits One Billion
Filed at 8:51 a.m. EDT
By The Associated Press
NEW DELHI, India (AP) -- With the birth of a baby girl named Astha --
``Faith'' in Hindi -- India's population officially hit 1 billion
today, an event marked with fanfare and concern over the nation's
Astha was born to Anjana and Ashok Arora at 5:05 a.m. this morning,
putting India in an exclusive club with China as the only nations
with populations exceeding 1 billion.
Just nine hours old and wailing, Astha was wheeled out with her
sari-clad mother before government ministers and a horde of
journalists at Safdarjang Hospital in the Indian capital. She weighed
six pounds 13 ounces at birth, doctors said.
``I feel fine,'' said the mother, Anjana, weak and overwhelmed by the
chaotic reception. ``I'm happy,'' said Ashok Arora, who works in an
automotive spare parts shop for a salary of $50 per month.
``Don't crush the baby,'' Sumitra Mahajan, the minister for women and
child welfare, screamed into her microphone as nearly 200 journalists
swarmed over the mother's bed. Hospital guards climbed onto a nearby
bed and beat back the journalists with wooden truncheons.
The government staged the 1 billionth baby milestone as part of a
public campaign pressing Indians to have smaller families and rein in
the country's spiraling population growth.
Every measure of progress India has made since independence in 1948
has been swamped by the swelling population: Food production has
tripled, yet many people go hungry; literacy has increased, but so
has the overall number of illiterate people.
With an estimated 42,000 births per day in India, it was impossible
to know exactly where the billionth baby would be born.
The government picked May 11 as the date -- calling it ``a moment of
celebration, a moment to ponder.'' Health Ministry officials, with
the concurrence of the U.N. Population Fund, decreed that a baby girl
born this morning in the 1,500-bed Safdarjang Hospital would
symbolically mark the milestone. Twenty-four babies were born in
Safdarjang between midnight and noon.
The choice of a baby girl reflects another part of the government's
attempts to change Indians' family attitudes: promoting fair
treatment for infant girls to overcome traditional biases in favor of
The last national census in 1991 said there were 927 women for every
1,000 men in India. Health experts said that reflected a trend in
rural and poor areas that gives boys preferential treatment in food
and health care. Infanticide of baby girls remains a problem.
The billionth birth was hardly cause for celebration. Since its
independence from Britain in 1948, India has tried to curb its
exploding population with little success. When it became a nation,
India had 300 million people.
``We welcome Astha, but we should also be thinking whether she would
get an opportunity for education and health like millions of other
children,'' said Mahajan, the government minister. ``Will we be able
to get her the resources and the opportunities necessary for her
future? This is what we have to think about.''
Beginning this morning, a recording by the state-owned telephone
company told anyone who picked up the phone to dial in New Delhi,
``Our population has now reached 1 billion. Let's have small families
for a stronger India.''
Projections say that if India does not curtail population growth it
will surpass China as the world's most populous nation in 50 years
with 1.5 billion people.
Efforts to encourage family planning among the poor suffered a
setback in the 1970s when the government sponsored a mass
sterilization campaign, in which poor people were duped or paid to
undergo vasectomies and tubectomies.
The emphasis has changed in the last decade toward educating women,
raising their status and providing better health care. Nongovernment
organizations tour rural areas distributing condoms and discussing
birth control, but sex education is not taught in the schools.
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